Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

BELVA BENNETT MCNALL LOCKWOOD
(1830-1917), lawyer, equal rights advocate, presidential candidate

WARREN L. LASHLEY

Looking back on her five-year struggle for admission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, Belva Bennett Lockwood said, "I never stopped fighting" ( New York World, November 3, 1912). These words aptly sum up her career as teacher, suffragist, lawyer, presidential candidate, and promoter of universal peace through international arbitration. Among her many achievements, she was the first woman to be admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Claims ( 1879) and to the bar of Virginia ( 1894) and to receive a doctor of laws degree ( 1909). She was also instrumental in securing equal pay for female federal employees and in obtaining for women of the District of Columbia equal property rights and equal guardianship of their children ( 1896). She ran for the U.S. presidency on the Equal Rights party ticket in 1884 and 1888, and is considered the first legitimate woman candidate for that office. Her name was presented to President William Howard Taft as a possible Supreme Court justice when John Harlan died in 1911 (unidentified newsclipping SCPC).


BACKGROUND

Born October 24, 1830, Belva Ann Bennett was the second of five children born to Hannah Green and Lewis J. Bennett, farmers who lived near Royalton in western New York. She attended local one-room schools, studied for a year at Royalton Academy, a preparatory school, and at age fifteen began teaching in the district schools. She immediately encountered discrimination--her salary was approximately half that of males doing the same work. Her protests were in vain. When told that that was the way of the world, she resolved to change it, if ever an opportunity presented itself ( "My Efforts,"216; Winner, 1958:325).

Hopes of a career based on higher education were set aside because colleges generally would not admit women. In 1848, she was married to farmer and sawmill operator Uriah H. McNall; a daughter, Lura, was born on July 31, 1849. However, Bennett McNall continued to study and contributed pieces to the local press. In 1853, McNall died as a result of a sawmill accident. Faced with the necessity of supporting herself and her daughter, she sought additional education with a view to teaching or other suitable employment. General sentiment during the 1850s was that pursuing higher education was unladylike. Nonetheless, she studied at Gasport Academy, attended first Genesee Wesleyan Seminary, and than Genesee College, from which she earned a B.S. degree with honors in 1857. Some thirteen years later, she was granted a master's degree from Genesee College, now Syracuse University ( "My Efforts,"217-218).

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